Recommended by Kevin O’Hara from Very Best for Kids.
This short children’s novel, A Boggle at Bewilderwood’ came to us by the most unusual of means and before I review the book, I first want to tell the story of how we came across it which is interesting in itself.
A few years ago we spent a week of the summer holidays staying at a friend’s cottage in the little seaside village of Bacton in Norfolk. Browsing through the ‘what’s on’ brochures, we came across a nearby place called Bewilderwood, which describes itself as “A huge, award winning forest of family fun and outdoor adventure. Treehouses, zip wires, jungle bridges, Crocklebogs, Twiggles and Boggles, storytelling, boat trips, marsh walks and really yummy food!” It looked perfect for our young children so we decided to give it a visit.
It really was an amazing day out. The treehouses, zipwires and jungle bridges together with the huge and very steep slides were indeed much fun, but what made it rather special was the theme of the park. The whole place was full of these strange, magical creatures: Crocklebogs, Twiggles and Boggles.
It didn’t take us long to find out that the site’s owner, Tom Blofeld, had written a novel and had brought to life the magical land where the novel was set, turning it into an outdoor adventure park the like of which I’d never seen before.
One of the other attractions at the park was a story telling session in which children dressed up as characters from the novel and acted it out for their parents to watch.
And it was here, as my eldest daughter (in the large wooden chair) played the role of the witch, that the story, ‘A Boggle of Bewilderwood’ first came to our attention. My children loved it. In fact my eldest loved it so much, that when they exited, as one does in these kinds of places, via the gift shop, she was immediately attracted to the novel itself, and this is how we came across it.
The Story: The hardback version we purchased opens, Tolkien-like, upon a brightly coloured map of the land of Bewilderwood and from here we enter the world of Swampy, a Marsh Boggle. Marsh Boggles are simple and timid creatures with no spirit of adventure what-so-ever who spend their lives playing silly games like Bogglebutt and eating disgusting sounding food like slitheigrub and slugbug soup. Swampy, unlike the other Boggles, has a mischievous need for adventure that leads him beyond the safety of Boggle Village and out onto the on the Scary Lake. It is here where his story begins when strange noises make him fearful for his safety. Has he found the Scary Lake Monster?
To see if he can find out what the source of the noises were, Swampy bravely makes his way to the Twiggle Village to ask his cousin, Moss, and his Twiggle wife, Leaflette, for assistance. After telling his story to the Twiggles, someone suggests that the best way to find the source of the scary noises is to visit the witch in the Black Marsh. Adventure beckons.
Here, the novel really picks up as Swampy, Moss and Leaflette set off on a series of adventures that takes them across the path of the giant Thornyclod Spider. The spider sets them a task in order to let them pass and from here they seek the witch. After being given clues about the origin of the noises, by the witch, the group have to find the famous Far Tree in order to complete the task set them by the Thoneyclod. From here, they have to find their way through the Muddled Maze, negotiate the Dark Woods and find a way to cross the Broken Bridge before the bats find them.
The adventure comes to a climax as they meet the old man in the deep reeds and finally have to make their way back to the Scary Lake and encounter the maker of the strange noises: a monstrous crocklebog called Mildred. Using the knowledge they have learned on their adventure, they understand how to deal with such monsters: by befriending them and thus the resolution of the story takes place. Triumphant, they head home as heroes, from now on now all the Boggles and Twiggles can safely travel the Scary Lake without fear.
This is a charming novel, only 71 pages long, so an ideal length for young readers. In a way it’s a ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘The Hobbit’ for the young child: full of charming and quirky characters who undertake a quest which leads them from adventure to adventure and will change their lives forever.
The story is delightfully brought to life by the many line drawn illustrations of Steve Pearce which also create a kind of Tolkienesque impression of the Bewilderwood world and its characters.
I recommend ‘A Boggle of Bewilderwood’ for children aged up to about 7 years old, either to read on their own or to have read to them. There are other books in the series too; we bought ‘The Bewilderbats’ on our last visit and like it just as much. I also recommend a visit to Bewilderwood if you are ever in Norfolk. The adventures are just as much fun for adults as for the children – I kept going on the huge slides over and over.
Before I end, there’s one other thing I want to add. When I read the book for the first time, something kept pricking at me over and over. Tom Blofeld? Where had I heard that name before? Then it dawned on me – Blofeld was the name of the James Bond villain. It turns out that the author’s grandfather, another Tom Blofeld, went to Eton with Ian Fleming and his surname was the inspiration for the character. Small world!
Bewilderwood The Curious Treehouse Adventure looks like a really fun day out 🙂